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International Institute for Innovation in Governance

“No time for nonsense!”: The organization of learning and its limits in evolving governance

This essay introduces and frames the contributions to the special issue on learning and co-evolution in governance. It develops the argument that learning, dark learning and non-learning are necessarily entwined in governance, moreover, entwined in a pattern unique to each governance configuration and path. What can be learned collectively for the common good, what kind of knowledge and learning can be strategically used and shamelessly abused, and which forms of knowledge remain invisible, intentionally and unintentionally, emerges in a history of co-evolution of actors and institutions, power and knowledge, in governance. Learning becomes possible in a particular form of management of observation, of transparency and opacity, where contingency is precariously mastered by governance systems expected to provide certainty for communities.

Assche, K. V., Beunen, R., Verweij, S., Evans, J., & Gruezmacher, M. (2022). “No time for nonsense!”: The organization of learning and its limits in evolving governanceAdministration & Society, 00953997221093695.

The special issue includes the following papers

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Verweij, S., Evans, J., Gruezmacher, M. (2022). Policy learning and adaptation in governance: A co-evolutionary perspective.
This paper introduces the concepts and ideas that frame this special issue on co-evolution in governance, and their implications for policy learning and adaptation. It offers a brief overview of co-evolutionary approaches to governance and their elementary connections with systems theories, post-structuralism, institutionalism, and actor-network theory, and explores how they are connected to co-evolution in governance. Co-evolutionary approaches differ from other influential understandings of knowledge and learning in policy and governance. It furthermore presents a typology of learning in governance and systematically discusses how each type is affected by patterns of coevolution in governance.

Jentoft, S., Chuenpagdee, R. (2022). Interactive learning and governance transformation for securing blue justice for small-scale fisheries
In the “Future We Want,” states and non-state actors are invited to contribute to achieving sustainable development goals through various means and mechanisms. This includes securing justice for the most marginalized and disadvantaged sectors like small-scale fisheries, whose rights and access to resources are threatened by Blue Economy/Growth initiatives. While strong and just institutions are imperative to securing sustainable small-scale fisheries, they are not sufficient conditions for obtaining justice. As illustrated in this paper, justice must be secured in the daily interactions between small-scale fisheries actors and other stakeholders, including governments, by means of interactive learning and involving governance transformation.

Alta, A., Mukhtarov, F. (2022). Relationality as a lens for policy analysis: Preserving harmony in a triangular cooperation project to strengthen gender mainstreaming in Fiji
Policy has been mostly approached as a rational project of setting goals and establishing rules and roles to achieve them. Alternative approaches to policy have been referred to as post-positivist, critical-reflexive and relational. They all emphasize emergent, co-evolutionary and relational aspects of policy work that cannot be reduced to rational choice and reasoning-based models alone. A shared element of such frameworks is the focus on relationships, which are seen not just in a narrow sense of the “logic of appropriateness,” but as a force that shapes actors’ identities, interests and power. Following relational analytical approaches, we analyze a triangular development cooperation project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Indonesia in order to strengthen gender mainstreaming (SGM) of Fijian government. Through attention to relationality as it shapes actors’ identities and narratives, we demonstrate how a different form of learning employed by each actor facilitated harmony in the project. A key mediating factor in the smooth project co-evolution that we observed, was the ambiguous project design and vaguely articulated goals, supported by fragmented project setup and reporting. Such ambiguity allowed formulation of multiple versions of the project’s outcomes for multiple audiences. However, it also resulted in little impact on the ground in Fiji. Our findings support persistent criticism of development aid projects in small island states for rarely addressing problems of target populations.

Landry, J. (2022). Do business-backed think tanks represent class interests? The co-evolution of policy learning and economic elites in the Canadian knowledge regime
Business-backed think tanks are often presented as representing the interests of economic elites. This article provides a more nuanced argument by using field theory to present the co-evolutionary dynamics between economic elites and other social forces. Three Canadian think tanks are examined to illustrate how different social forces can converge around business-backed think tanks, and how governance contexts and institutions shape these relationships. The paper also reflects on the kinds of learning these think tanks can enable depending on the kinds of actors that converge around them and on the forms of power that these actors represent.

De Groot, B., Leendertse, W., Arts, J. (2022). Co-evolution of organisations in infrastructure planning: The role of communities of practice as windows for learning across project-oriented organisations. 
Challenges in infrastructure planning require public infrastructure administrators, responsible for providing adequate infrastructure facilities, to be adaptive. These organizations evolve and interact with other organizations in a complex organizational landscape. This paper explores the contribution of inter-organizational communities of practice (CoPs) to collective learning and co-evolution of organizations in infrastructure planning. We conducted a case study of five inter-organizational CoPs in the domain of a typical public infrastructure administrator. The results suggest that inter-organizational CoPs enable, for example, policy and practice to co-evolve. Inter-organizational CoPs seem to provide a neutral ground where long-term sector benefits can overcome short-term organizational interests.

Gerrits, L., Marks, P. (2022). Learn and adapt, or perish: The case of the F35 Lightning II
We assess to what extent a (co)evolutionary macro level approach enhances our understanding of learning in governance processes. We ask the question: in what ways do actors learn to improve their chances of long-term survival in complex governance processes? We deploy a model of collective decision making moulded upon fitness landscapes to analyze a longitudinal case study of collective (political and administrative) decision making, namely the process of developing and acquiring the F35 Lightning II fighter jet. The study demonstrates that actors learn how to ensure survival over time but create a failing megaproject in the process.

Leong, C., Howlett, M. (2022). Policy learning, policy failure, and the mitigation of policy risks: Re-thinking the lessons of policy success and failure
Policy failures are often assumed to be unintentional and anomalous events about which well-intentioned governments can learn why they occurred and how they can be corrected. These assumptions color many of the results from contemporary studies of policy learning which remain optimistic that ongoing policy problems can be resolved through technical learning and lesson drawing from comparative case studies. Government intentions may not be solely oriented toward the creation of public value and publics may not abide by government wishes, however, and studies of policy learning need to take these “darksides” of policy-making more seriously if the risks of policy failure are to be mitigated.

Material dependencies: hidden underpinnings of sustainability transitions

Special Issue Journal Environmental Policy and Planning

Material dependencies: hidden underpinnings of sustainability transitions

Editors: Kristof Van Assche, Martijn Duineveld, Monica Gruezmacher, Raoul Beunen & Vladislav Valentinov

Sustainability transitions bring together many different disciplines focussing on the interrelations between the social and the material. The burgeoning field of transition studies is becoming more inter-disciplinary, less normative, less modernist in nature, and more open to both discursive and material dynamics. Social-ecological systems thinking, already sensitive to ecological relations and vulnerabilities in their governance thinking, is similarly opening up to other disciplines, and considering the social and discursive with more care and open minds. In geography and anthropology, a turn to the body, to materiality and to affect preceded these developments, sometimes inspired by Deleuzian theory, sometimes simply through careful observation. Policy studies and planning, meanwhile, have picked up on the need to contribute to transitions and the pathways of sustainable development.

The contributions to this special issue explicitly aim to contribute to these inter-disciplinary debates on governance for sustainability. They explore the integration of insights from various disciplines to regain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of material environments, both natural and human-made, on the formation and functioning of communities, their cultures, and their governance systems. The collection aims to contribute to this collective re-balancing of theories between discursive and material by highlighting how both connect: in governance, where collectively binding decisions are made to shape, exploit and protect the environment while the wider social issues and governance are simultaneously shaped by its material substrate.

Material dependencies: hidden underpinnings of sustainability transitions
Van Assche, K., Duineveld, M., Beunen, R., Valentinov, V., & Gruezmacher, M.

Infrastructural legacies and post-Soviet transformations in Northern Sakha (Yakutiya), Russia
Schweitzer, P., & Povoroznyuk, O.

Materialities, discourses and governance: scallop culture in Sechura, Peru
Kluger, L. C., Schlüter, A., Garteizgogeascoa, M., & Damonte, G.

The modern railway and the Swedish state – competing storylines about state capacity, modernisation and material dependencies in the Swedish high-speed rail discourse, 1995–2020
Haikola, S., & Anshelm, J.

New problems for assemblage thinking: materiality, governance and cycling in Sydney, Australia
Lea, T., Buchanan, I., Fuller, G., & Waitt, G.

Tackling material dependency in sustainability transition: rationales and insights from the agriculture sector
Pellizzoni, L., & Centemeri, L.

Shock and Conflict in Social-Ecological Systems

In this paper, we present a framework for the analysis of shock and conflict in social-ecological systems and investigate the implications of this perspective for the understanding of environmental governance, particularly its evolutionary patterns and drivers. We dwell on the distinction between shock and conflict. In mapping the relation between shock and conflict, we invoke a different potentiality for altering rigidity and flexibility in governance; different possibilities for recall, revival and trauma; and different pathways for restructuring the relation between governance, community and environment. Shock and conflict can be both productive and eroding, and for each, one can observe that productivity can be positive or negative. These different effects in governance can be analyzed in terms of object and subject creation, path creation and in terms of the dependencies recognized by evolutionary governance theory: path, inter-, goal and material dependencies. Thus, shock and conflict are mapped in their potential consequences to not only shift a path of governance, but also to transform the pattern of self-transformation in such path. Finally, we reflect on what this means for the interpretation of adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. 

Van Assche, K., Gruezmacher, M., & Beunen, R. (2022). Shock and Conflict in Social-Ecological Systems: Implications for Environmental Governance. Sustainability14(2), 610.

Policy Learning and Adaptation in governance

This paper introduces the concepts and ideas that frame this special issue on co-evolution in governance, and their implications for policy learning and adaptation. It offers a brief overview of co-evolutionary approaches to governance and their elementary connections with systems theories, post-structuralism, institutionalism, and actor-network theory, and explores how they are connected to co-evolution in governance. Co-evolutionary approaches differ from other influential understandings of knowledge and learning in policy and governance. It furthermore presents a typology of learning in governance and systematically discusses how each type is affected by patterns of coevolution in governance.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Verweij, S., Evens, J. & Gruezmachter, M. (2021) Policy learning and adaptation in governance: a co-evolutionary perspective. Society & Administration, 2021 https://doi.org/10.1177%2F00953997211059165

Flat ontology and evolving governance

This paper explores the consequences of a flat ontology for planning theory and practice through the lens of Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT). It presents a perspective in which the ontological hierarchies assumed in planning and beyond are left behind, but also one that allows for understanding how hierarchies and binaries can emerge from and within governance and specifically planning. In this perspective planning is conceptualised as a web of interrelated social-material systems underpinning the coordination of policies and practices affecting spatial organization. Within this web, different planning perspectives and planning practices co-exist and co-evolve, partly in relation to the wider governance contexts of which they are part. We explore and deepen our understanding of the consequences of flat ontology by focusing on the interrelations between power and knowledge and the varied effects of materiality on planning and governance as materiality can play roles ranging from latent infrastructure to main triggers of change. We conclude our paper by assessing the consequences for the positionality of planning in society, stressing the need for more reflexive and adaptive forms of planning and governance, and reflection on what such forms of planning could look like. We argue that despite the abstract nature of discussions on ontology in and of planning, the conceptual shifts that result from thinking in terms of flat ontologies can significantly affect planning practices as it can inspire new ways of observing and organizing.

Keywords: Planning; Evolutionary Governance Theory; theory and practice; flat ontology

Beunen, R., Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K. (2021) Flat ontology and evolving governance: consequences for planning theory and practice . disP – The Planning Review 57 (2): 112-123.

Understanding public trust in water managers

Public trust in water managers is often considered an important precondition for the effective implementation of sustainable water-management practices. Although it is well known that general public trust in government institutions is under pressure, much less is known in the literature on water governance whether such distrust also affects general and task-specific trust of the wider public in water managers. In addition, empirical studies on the determinants of such trust seem to be scarce. To fill those gaps, this study aims to measure general and task-specific public trust in water managers in the Netherlands and to assess how a selected group of potential determinants is related to general- and task-specific trust in water managers. To this end, we employ an original survey among a representative sample of the Dutch population (N = 2262). We find that trust in water managers in the Netherlands is generally high, but that it also comes with some task-specific variations. People have more trust in the flood-protection capacities of the water managers than in the capacities to successfully manage surface-water quality, nature conservation, and drought management. Using linear regression models, we subsequently find that individual-level variations in trust in water managers are best explained by one’s general level of political trust. Additionally, we also show that both risk perceptions and self-evaluations of how informed people feel themselves about water management are important factors with (curvilinear) relations with trust in water managers. Overall, we conclude that water managers are under specific conditions able to build themselves well-established reputations and relatively high trust levels based on their performances. Nevertheless, trust development is far from entirely in the hands of the water managers themselves as we also conclude that trust evaluations of water managers are not immune from negative generalized political evaluations and public perceptions on water related risks.

Voogd, R., De Vries, J.R. & Beunen, R. (2021) Understanding public trust in water managers: Findings from the Netherlands. Journal of Environmental Management. Volume 300, 15 December 2021, 113749.

Adaptive methodology

This paper explores the possibilities and limits of changing the research approach during a project and show how an adaptive research methodology can be useful at project level, but also helps to bridge disciplinary boundaries. The paper is based on our own experiences with research projects throughout the world that often required a fair amount of flexibility due to practical reasons, such as time and budget, and spurring adaptation because new insights emerged from empirical data and inspiring discussions with fellow researchers, not seldom those from other disciplines.

With an adaptive research design, topic, theoretical framing, method, and data are in principle open to adaptation during the research process. The main premise is that adaptations in one element of the research process can trigger changes in other elements. Both positive and negative reasons for adaptivity are discussed along with various valid reasons for limiting adaptivity in particular cases. Grasping the different couplings between concepts, theories and methods is useful to discern the possibilities and limits of adaptive methodology in situ. To deepen the understanding of the adaptive capacity of methodology, we broaden the discussion to look at the embedding of methodology in academia and its disciplines. In our perspective, methods appear as devices structuring thinking and observation and are well used and placed if they enhance and enable the continuation of observation and reflection and if they allow the researcher to remain open for alternative observations and interpretations.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Duineveld, M., & Gruezmacher, M. (2021). Adaptive methodology. Topic, theory, method and data in ongoing conversation. International Journal of Social Research Methdology. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2021.1964858 #openaccess

Steering in Governance: evolutionary perspectives

Steering has negative connotations nowadays in many discussions on governance, policy, politics and planning. The associations with the modernist state project linger on. At the same time, a rethinking of what is possible by means of policy and planning, what is possible through governance, which forms of change and which pursuits of common goods still make sense, in an era of cynicism about steering yet also high steering expectations, seems eminently useful. Between laissez faire and blue-print planning are many paths which can be walked. In this thematic issue, we highlight the value of evolutionary understandings of governance and of governance in society, in order to grasp which self-transformations of governance systems are more likely than others and which governance tools and ideas stand a better chance than others in a particular context. We pay particular attention to Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) as a perspective on governance which delineates steering options as stemming from a set of co-evolutions in governance. Understanding steering options requires, for EGT, path mapping of unique governance paths, as well as context mapping, the external contexts relevant for the mode of reproduction of the governance system in case. A rethinking of steering in governance, through the lens of EGT, can shed a light on governance for innovation, sustainability transitions, new forms of participation and self-organization. For EGT, co-evolutions and dependencies, not only limit but also shape possibilities of steering, per path and per domain of governance and policy.

Table of Contents:

Steering in Governance: Evolutionary Perspectives
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4489
By Raoul Beunen and Kristof Van Assche

Steering as Path Creation: Leadership and the Art of Managing Dependencies and Reality Effects
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4027
By Kristof Van Assche, Martijn Duineveld, Monica Gruezmacher and Raoul Beunen

Economic Transitions in South Africa’s Secondary Cities: Governing Mine Closures
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4032
By Lochner Marais, Verna Nel, Kholisa Rani, Deidré van Rooyen, Kentse Sesele, Phia van der Watt and Lyndon du Plessis

Irritation Design: Updating Steering Theory in the Age of Governance
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4075
By Marc Mölders

Social Investment Policies in the EU: Actively Concrete or Passively Abstract?
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4079
By Gaby Umbach and Igor Tkalec

Strategy and Steering in Governance: The Changing Fates of the Argentine Planning Council
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4089
By Rodrigo Alves Rolo, Kristof Van Assche and Martijn Duineveld

What Is the Role of the Government in Wildlife Policy? Evolutionary Governance Perspective
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4106
By Krzysztof Niedziałkowski and Renata Putkowska-Smoter

Mitigating Pro-Poor Housing Failures: Access Theory and the Politics of Urban Governance
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4113
By Katja Mielke and Helena Cermeño

Policy Assemblages and Policy Resilience: Lessons for Non-Design from Evolutionary Governance Theory
www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/4170
By Kris Hartley and Michael Howlett

Long-term perspectives & strategy

The journal Futures has published a special issue on Long-term perspectives and strategy. This special issue analyses and reflects on relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. While dismissing high modernist planning and acknowledging constraints to long-term policies, the different contributions in this volume, each in their own way, contend that strategy is necessary to face the challenges of our times. The fifteen articles highlight different aspects of the possibilities of and limits to strategy in governance, to turn long-term perspectives into strategy and strategy into reality. They all examine how long- term perspectives and issues are constituted by different governance practices and emerge in rather different policy contexts, which points to the need to better understand the diverse interplay between strategy, long-term perspectives and patterns of policy integration. Furthermore, the contributions emphasize how long-range governance requires careful attention to issues of temporality, the management of uncertainty and the interplay between the short term and the long term.

Strategy for collectives and common goods: Coordinating strategy, long-term perspectives and policy domains in governance

Kristof Van Assche, Gert Verschraegen, Monica Gruezmacher

Strategic openings: On the productivity of blended long-term perspectives in spatial strategy. A Dutch case study

Ferry van de Mosselaer, Martijn Duineveld

Strategy’s futures

Liliana Doganova, Martin Kornberger

There is no such thing as a short-term issue

Michael K. MacKenzie

Assessing the options for combatting democratic myopia and safeguarding long-term interests

Jonathan Boston

Breaking through the epistemic impasse: Ending homelessness with the invention of ‘functional zero’ in the Anglo-American world

Joshua Evans, Tom Baker

What makes long-term perspectives endure? Lessons from Dutch nature conservation

Raoul Beunen, Iulian Barba Lata

Governing through strategies: How does Finland sustain a future-oriented environmental policy for the long term?

Vesa Koskimaa, Lauri Rapeli, Juha Hiedanpää

Anticipating and planning for mine closure in South Africa

Lochner Marais, Anri de Lange

Shaping future perspectives in policy advice under deep, long-term uncertainty. The case of the Dutch Delta Committee

S.A. Van ‘t Klooster, S.A. Veenman

Prospects of a transition to the knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia and Qatar: A critical reflection through the lens of spatial embeddedness and evolutionary governance theory

Abbas Ziafati Bafarasat, Eduardo Oliveira

Governing technological zones, making national renewable energy futures

Shana Lee Hirsch

‘Solving for X?’ Towards a problem-finding framework to ground long-term governance strategies for artificial intelligence

Hin-Yan Liu, Matthijs M. Maas

Reinvention paths and reinvention paradox: Strategic change in Western Newfoundland communities

Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Kelly Vodden, Ryan Gibson, Leith Deacon

Strategic spatial planning through pragmatic blueprints: Forms and levels of adaptivity in modernist planning of the Dutch IJsselmeerpolders

Terry van Dijk

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